The Debate Society’s “Blood Play” at UtR 2013

photo: Javier Oddo

photo: Javier Oddo

I loved the little perspective window of the backyard! The sound the old blow-dryer made! How alienating to see non-alienated acting! Last Saturday took me to the Public for The Debate Society‘s Blood Play–part of the 2013 Under the Radar Festival–that celebrated pageant of vintage drinking games spliced with supernatural howls of wounded boyhood. I was excited because I had not seen the company’s work. And I was hungry because I had not eaten.

Alyssa Alpine wrote a concise, cogent, careful response after the premiere at The Bushwick Starr last Fall. “The appeal and substance of Blood Play—from the writing to the acting—lies in the allusions and comments that are dropped, but not pursued,” Alpine writes. I agree though I missed the play then and wonder how it has changed. I’m not sure what to do in this response. I want to describe the experience of holding my big coat and listening to myself laugh or not laugh and my neighbors almost not laugh too.

Two couples: Hannah Bos and Michael Cyril Creighton play Bev and Morty. This is their permeable basement. They look slick and act hysterical. The subterranean family (Fritzl?). Hanlon Smith-Dorsey and Birgit Huppuch play Sam and Gail, their friends in cow costumes. Paul Thureen plays Jeep, a photographer who stays to play drinking games after accidentally hitting Sam with his car. One game is “Grandfather Clock” where players dangle potatoes from the waist with twine and gyrate and waddle to hit oranges across a finish line. Morty makes cocktails in his at-home bar stocked with unopened maraschino cherry jars (:laughs:). Props to the crew and the design team (ASM is Michael Newton). Also, Bev and Morty have a son, Ira (Emma Galvin), who is camping in the backyard instead of going on a Boy Scouts camping trip.

That is the play but where is the blood? The audience gasps both times blood comes out of eggs. Bad eggs. Bad kids. Bloody kids. Families communicating AS families. Or not communicating. Was this Romeo and Juliet? Emma Galvin, a woman, plays Ira, a little boy who can see the future and other people’s pasts? Twilight Zone. S/he speaks in seer-ish presentational monotone after Laura Jelinek’s hypernaturalist Cornell box-in-a-box inverts itself in the biggest movement event of the show. Gus Van Sant perspective shift? What does it mean for a set change to be so spectacular and memorable?

Here is post-war suburbanization. We see two Jewish couples enfolding into the middle class, the nuclear family, and Whiteness outside 1950s Chicago with the Boy Scouts coordinating these becomings at the level of the child. The figure of the Jewish American first born son in a feathered headdress invokes the memory of at least two genocides. The work juxtaposes histories of violence that find no release in the present and remain undiscussed with the most personal and immediate trauma here lying on Ira’s person. Kane’s Blasted comes to mind for charting the recursivity of ideologies of dominance as well might Albee’s work with generational repression and fantasy and Reza’s God of Carnage. The cast luxuriates in the characterizations, retro social performances that foreclose certain intimacies and communications. It is only over the course of the entire play that the fabric of interaction intermittently admits enough space for us to learn that Ira has been the victim of violence at the hands of Sam and Gail’s boys. Character-based psychological realism and insipid leisure activities cover up this wound. What about the “wound” of psychological realism?

The arc is one of pain discovered and unattended with no care, redress, or nourishment available. Ira imagines the future and sees a younger brother in his life to teach and entertain but does it get better? Bravo, Paul Thureen who gesticulates stiffly, talks past people and humorously/sadly says “ah”. I thought of my grandfather. His is the only character to share the stage with Galvin’s Ira in a bodily way. He is already queered by his single status and impaired gait. Is he attracted to Ira? He takes his photograph. Ira sees or imagines Jeep being bullied as a child. Kathryn Bond Stockton’s work on growth and the child seem relevant to the rumblings of memory and teleology in the connection between these two wounded figures.

Sad play. Makes you jump (when lightening flashes on the audience).

The Debate Society’s Blood Play continues through Sunday, January 20th.

Tickets here.

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